F1 Primer: The tracks

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There are 19 races on the 2013 F1 schedule from Austin to Abu Dhabi. Here are some of the highlights.

The fastest: Monza, Italy

The nearest thing F1 has to an IndyCar or NASCAR-style oval. Built just outside Milan in 1922, Monza is essentially four quick corners connected by long straights, interrupted by three chicanes to slow the cars down.

The latter means the classic slipstreaming races Monza used to see are a thing of the past. But it remains F1’s quickest track. The fastest ever F1 race took place here in 2003, won by Michael Schumacher at an average speed of 153.843mph.

Video: Lap of Monaco with Michael Schumacher in 2003

The longest: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Like Monza, the Spa circuit in the Ardennes forest in Belgium featured in the first ever world championship in 1950. Then an 8.7-mile monster, even in its reduced form the 4.3-mile track remains the longest in F1.

It’s also one of the most popular among the drivers as it is fast and flowing, with few of the many slow corners found on modern tracks. Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Stavelot and Blanchimont are some of the evocative names of the thrillingly fast corners to be found on the track.

The most glamorous: Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Holding a race around the streets of the tiny principality of Monaco is preposterous and marvelous. Were it not for its prestige and heritage there is no way a similar race could be envisaged today.

Monaco generally does not produce great races because overtaking is practically impossible. But its narrow confines are a stern challenge for the drivers and when combined with a sprinkling of rain it’s one of the toughest events in motor racing.

Video: Lap of Monaco with Ralf Schumacher, 2004

The original: Silverstone, Britain

The world championship began at Silverstone in 1950 and although the circuit has been transformed almost beyond recognition since then, it still features some of F1’s quickest and most challenging corners.

Video: Lap of Silverstone with Jenson Button, 2011

The drivers’ favorite: Suzuka Japan

Along with Spa, the sinuous Suzuka circuit with its unique crossover is regularly named by drivers as one of their favorites.

Not just because of the demanding opening sector, the high-speed corners and the enthusiasm of Japan’s fans. But because it is one of a dwindling number of circuits where a mistake is punished by contact with a barrier instead of a long drive through a wasteland of tarmac run-off.

The newest: Circuit of the Americas, USA

The home of the United States Grand Prix was an instant hit when it held its first race last year. The complex opening sector is among its best features – and of course the warm welcome from American fans who’d gone five years without a race of their own.

The rest

The city of Melbourne welcomes the teams to round one. The opening flyaway tour includes Malaysia, China and Bahrain before heading to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve often provides exciting races. The German Grand Prix returns to the (short) Nurburgring this year.

A hectic sequence of final races begins with the Singapore night race and takes in Korea, India and Abu Dhabi. The United States Grand Prix on November 17th begin a double-header finale which concludes with the Brazilian Grand Prix in the feverish atmosphere of Interlagos in Sao Paulo.

F1 Primer

Column: Contrasting Michael Schumacher’s and Robert Wickens’ situations

(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)
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As much of the world looks forward to Christmas and New Years Day in the next few weeks, a dark anniversary is also on the near horizon.

It’s hard to believe that December 29 will mark five years since seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was critically injured in a skiing accident, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Schumacher and his family were on holiday in the French Alps when he fell and struck his head on a boulder. The impact was so severe that it cracked the helmet he was wearing straight through.

One can only imagine the damage the impact did to Schumacher’s skull and brain.

While chronologically the accident occurred a half-decade ago, for many of “Schu’s” most ardent fans, it seems like it was just yesterday when the earth-shattering news broke.

In the following days and weeks after his accident, Schumacher was placed in a medically induced coma, as well as had at least two surgeries on his brain.

Since then the world has waited for news about the racing legend’s condition, only to receive very little in terms of updates over the subsequent five years.

That’s the way his family wants it, having repeatedly requested privacy when it comes to details about Michael’s condition. That request for privacy should be respected.

Schumacher’s wife, Corrina, issued a rare statement late last month that didn’t really say much about her husband’s condition or recovery, but she did thank fans and well-wishers for their continued prayers and concern about her husband, adding, “We all know Michael is a fighter and will not give up.”

In the meantime, Schumacher’s fans have been able to stay somewhat close to his legacy by watching as his 19-year-old son, Mick, has showed significant achievement in his own budding racing career.

So much so that rumors have already popped up that the younger Schu may soon follow in his father’s F1 footsteps, perhaps as early as 2020.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

What makes the Schumacher situation so difficult for many to still understand is how, while enjoying a simple skiing excursion with his family, he suffered a life-changing accident while having survived some wicked crashes during his racing career that barely affected him.

We still don’t know if Schumacher can walk, talk, is conscious and lucid or not – and many of his fans have already accepted that we may never, ever know any of those details. But if that’s the way he and/or his family want it, again, then we need to respect their wishes.

At the same time, there’s another race car driver who suffered a horrendous injury at Pocono Raceway this past August, namely IndyCar driver Robert Wickens.

Wickens suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that has left him a paraplegic – although there remains a great deal of hope that he will one day walk again.

While both suffered serious injuries, there’s a significant contrast between Schumacher and Wickens. The former (or his family) is keeping all details about his condition private, while the latter keeps his fans and supporters regularly updated on social media on how he’s doing.

That includes Wickens posting a number of videos, including some rather humorous ones where he has a mischievous look in his eyes or a good-natured smirk on his face — like bringing in a Christmas tree to his rehab facility, or “racing” teammate James Hinchcliffe in wheelchairs in a Days of Thunder homage of sorts.

Watching each new Wickens video or reading his most recent online messages, it’s very clear that expressing himself and reaching out to the world is indeed good therapy and medicine of sorts for the Canadian driver.

He needs those social media posts and videos as much as we need them from him.

And it also helps fans better understand where Wickens is at in his recovery and rehab.

If Schumacher or his family wish to still remain private about his condition, we must respect that. But perhaps they could see the good will and good tidings that Wickens’ videos and posts offer. They’re as good for Wickens’ own well-being as they are for his fans — and they could be equally as good for Schumacher, his family and his fans.

Follow @JerryBonkowski